This has been a big year for awareness about sexual assault and sexism. The Stanford rape case with Brock Turner made a huge impact on women and men everywhere by painting a vivid picture of the realities of rape and how we as a society allow it to continue. And Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” tape showed people just how rampant sexist attitudes toward women still are in our culture, and why.
And in recent years, allegations against Bill Cosby grew as more and more women emerged from the shadow of secrecy and admitted what they’d suffered at his entitled, sick, manipulative hand.
These events and issues have generated such publicity that they’ve crawled their way into my Daughters of Anarchy series, especially the 3rd book.
What’s been especially interesting (to coin a euphemism) is seeing how people respond to such allegations, especially when the evidence for their veracity is strong. Here are a few patterns I’ve witnessed:
The “I don’t believe her.”
When women step up to accuse a famous man, there are many who will be skeptical of such accusations and wonder if they stem from a desire for attention, revenge, fame, publicity, or money. This is especially common with celebrity cases, where all of those things can be factors.
In reality, false accusations of rape and other crimes hover around 1-2%, and that doesn’t include the vast number of sexual abuse survivors that never come forward. Moreover, no victim wants attention or money; they want to heal and hopefully prevent others from being victims.
The “What did she expect?”
These people question the victim’s actions. These are often posed as “I’m just curious” questions, but are actually just sneaky ways to suggest that victim is somehow responsible for what happened to her. For example:
1. “You go to parties and drink too much, what do you think is going to happen?” (Um, how about she has fun, or, on bad nights, prays to the porcelain god and wakes up hungover?)
2. “She was dressed like that and went to his hotel room/his house. Why is she surprised that he got too physical with her?” (Because even if she showed up naked, consent is still consent and she’s allowed to refuse consent or change her mind. She’s surprised because any decent guy already knows that and will back off if she isn’t fully consenting.)
3. “She’s a porn star. Why would she be offended that he touched her inappropriately?” (Porn stars and other sex workers are human beings with rights. And their work, no matter how shocking or questionable to you, is done WITH CONSENT.)
The “Why now?”
These folks will question why a victim didn’t speak up “sooner.” If you wait more than, say, ten minutes after an assault has occurred, the immediate assumption is that it didn’t really happen or wasn’t a “real” crime and thus the woman must have an ulterior motive for speaking out now.
In reality, people don’t speak up because they know instinctively that people (friends, coworkers, family, and especially cops and judges) will do or say one of the things I talk about in this article. For them, the abuse was painful enough… to add people judging them or denying their experience makes it MUCH worse. Sometimes it’s easier to keep quiet.
The “It wasn’t a big deal.”
These are the people who will minimize what happened and make it seem like the perpetrator’s actions weren’t as bad as other sexual crimes or were normal for that time. These are the Rape Apologists. For example, Brock Turner’s female friend stated that what he did wasn’t real rape. Or people will poo-poo Cosby’s actions or the accusations because “things were different back then.”
So, why? Why are people willing to believe that the victim is lying or out for cash (something that has a probability of 1-2% at most) instead of believing the 98-99% probability option that the victim is telling the truth? Why do people blame the victim, question why they hid the truth, or try to minimize the act? This rogue scientist will pull from her psychology background and sum it up into one word:
These stories scare people down to their marrow. They know, deep in their reptilian brains, that humans are capable of sexual abuse and that it could happen to them or someone they love at any time. Thus, the brain’s protective mechanism known as denial kicks in to protect them from the unsavory truth. And the behaviors I discuss above are all manifestations of that defense mechanism.
Denial over the short term makes some sense, at least until you can come to terms with the painful truth. But over the long term, it poisons us as a society and turns us into cowards who allow perpetrators to get away with their crimes, all hedging our bets that it won’t happen to us. However, social disapproval and chastisement are FAR more powerful than what the justice system can offer, and if people stood up against such crimes, they would become far less common. The Brock Turners of the world would think twice before forcing themselves on an unconscious woman if they knew that the consequences would be harsh judgment from their parents and peers. Instead, Sir Brock had at least three rape apologists to defend him (his father, his female friend, and the judge who gave him that shameful light sentence), telling the world and all males that rape is okay.
Many would argue that criminals are gonna crime no matter what. I think that’s true for some, but not most. If we pull our heads out of our asses and take a stand against sexual harassment and sexual violence, its prevalence will decrease.